Category Archives: Education

Hearing aids – the good and the bad of funding

Today I came across a gofundme campaign for a 14-year-old girl who needs hearing aids. They need around $6000 to get her these, and there’s little to no funding available, partly because they’re just not poor enough, and partly because America is bloody ridiculous. She’s probably had hearing loss from birth, and hearing aids will change her world. I know, because I watched the day my daughter got hers.

My youngest has moderate hearing loss. It’s not extreme, she’s not deaf, but she doesn’t hear well at all. It’s more difficult than most moderate hearing because she has an unusual loss pattern – she can’t hear right in the middle of the vocal range, so the things she can’t hear aren’t necessarily quiet noises – she can hear some of them. What she can’t hear are people’s voices. The magic of turning her hearing aids on and seeing her hear me properly for the first time was absolute magic. The change in her coping ability was massive – she wasn’t constantly frustrated by not hearing things properly any more. The difference in her schooling – she can hear what’s going on, she can follow the instructions now that she hears them, she gets in trouble less because she’s not constantly frustrated and does what she’s told. Magic.

Her hearing aids come in at just under $4,000 for the pair, plus testing, fitting, and incidentals like batteries and repairs. How much have we paid so far? About $20 in parking fees for the local hospital. Every child under 16 in this country gets their hearing aids absolutely free (or up to age 21 if still in full-time schooling). It’s great.

Things get a little more difficult when a child leaves school and officially becomes an adult. At that point there are two schemes in place –  the Hearing Aid Subsidy Scheme and the Hearing Aid Funding Scheme. The Funding Scheme pays for hearing aids once every six years, plus repairs as needed. The Subsidy Scheme pays a certain amount toward the costs of hearing aids once every six years.

The Funding Scheme is for children who graduate into adulthood with severe hearing loss. My girl does not have severe hearing loss – she has only moderate hearing loss, but in a difficult way, as I said. So she does not qualify for Funding.

That leaves the Subsidy Scheme, which is available to anyone needing hearing aids. That’s kind of neat, too, that anyone can access some funding for a problem that can be disabling for many people. It interferes with work, with leisure, with family life – it’s a big deal, even when only mild or moderate. Unfortunately the amount is not ideal. It’s $511.11 per hearing aid, per six year period. you may remember that my girl’s hearing aids cost the best part of $4,000. The difference is staggering.

Low-end hearing aids can cost as little as $800 each, but they’re called low-end for a reason. Mid-range cost up to about $1,500, and they’re a bit better, but for an active young person who goes to cafes and pubs, who goes to group meetings and is generally in complex aural situations, a high-end device can cost up to $3,000 – per ear. (Figures are from a government document that I cannot locate at this time). The shortfall is massive.

We are lucky, in that at this time and probably in the future we will be able to help her pay for such a huge investment, the way we pay for her sister’s glasses at the moment. What if we were not so lucky? What if I hadn’t found a decent job and was living on minimum wage – or a benefit? Hearing loss is a reality for families at all income levels, and graduating from a free service to suddenly being left with almost nothing means the end of good hearing for many people, with the social and workplace handicaps that entails. This prevents those with moderate hearing loss from achieving and earning at their highest potential.

I know that in the end it comes down to budget, and budget is something that I would struggle to allocate. Surely this, though, is something that would provide a net gain on investment due to the increased ability to pay tax on better jobs acquired through better hearing? Perhaps I am naive, but it would seem to me to be a decent investment.

Kids going hungry at school – 22% of them

The Northland principals’ association president this week conducted a survey of students in the Northland region that are coming to school without lunch on average, and what he found is awful. On average, 22% of students arriving at school – 1092 of 7352 students covered by the survey so far – are coming to school without adequate food. At the extreme end, one school reported 83% – 90 of 108 students – are doing without. These numbers are unbelievably bad.

Our Prime Minister, of course, stands by his statement that the numbers are “relatively small”. Even in the face of evidence, he will not accept that there is a problem, what the principals’ association president calls a “crisis”.

Twenty-two percent. How is this even possible? Even if more schools report in and the percentage goes down due to better rates at those schools, the absolute numbers so far are terrible. More than a thousand kids going hungry – I’m running out of ways to say that it’s horrible.

Some kids are being fed and clothed by KidsCan (an amazing organisation that you should donate to if you can) and others are being fed by the schools. So most of these kids are not going hungry in the end. But schools should not be digging into their own budgets, teachers should not be digging into their own pockets, and we should not have to have a charity dedicated to this kind of poverty in a land of plenty! The government has the resources to feed those kids, and – as put by Jeff Bridges – “Poverty is a very complicated issue, but feeding a child isn’t”.

He’s right. The reasons behind why these kids are coming to school without food are complicated. Many families are so poor that there’s not enough food for lunch boxes – why? Unliveable benefits. Families bigger than what can be sustained on a single minimum wage, or even on two. Parents so busy that making lunch has slipped down a priority list. Parents that drink and smoke and gamble away the money. Parents that are just too lazy. Do I believe all of these scenarios? No, but they have all been proposed as possibilities.

Does it matter what the reasons are? Addressing many of these is difficult, and some require interventions that our society will not countenance, such as raising benefits to liveable levels or raising minimum wage to a living wage. People’s ideas about what the poor deserve run counter to the changes that would be needed in these cases. Effective addiction interventions are not always easily accessed, so society judges the addicts without offering a hand up. There are many (mostly conservative) values that would have to change to address the underlying issues that cause children to come to school without food.

Feeding the kids is easy. Food in schools programmes are not difficult to implement, and not terribly expensive. Estimates are around $10-14 million – which is around half the cost of a flag referendum, a cost that many aren’t seeing as particularly important.

Addressing poverty is hard. Feeding kids is easy – and we should. It is not these kids’ fault that their lunch boxes are empty (if they exist at all). Pontificating about parental responsibility and so on doesn’t fill empty bellies. We can fix the immediate problem, feed the kids that are struggling to learn on empty tummies, and then look at making sweeping changes to welfare, addiction, and parenting support. These kids are suffering while we argue about the rights and wrongs of their parents and the system, and it’s not ok.

National Standards and the non-standard child

Today was the ‘warning! National Standard garbage ahead’ edition of the school newsletter. The principal (a wonderful man, who does not deserve the garbage that our education system throws at school teachers and administrators) wrote a long and comforting spiel about how interim reporting is coming up next term, and for several reasons we as parents should not get wound up about the contents of these reports.

He raised some good points. Importantly, a standard is designed to be measured just once, at the end of the year, but is mandated to be reported on twice, once half-way through the year and again at the end. Thus, the mid-year report often shows a child as underachieving because they’re only half-way through the learning set for the year. Of course they’re not at standard! They haven’t yet learned all the things they need to know to achieve standard, and more than that, they’re not supposed to have yet. But yay, let’s worry parents into believing their child isn’t doing as well as they are.

Another point was the sheer bluntness of the standard being measured. There are only four levels. Above, At, Below. or Well Below Standard. There are no layers of excellence, but there are dire levels of inadequacy. Worse, a teacher is expected to make an overall judgement on the level the student is achieving at – I have no idea how that works with a math whiz who can’t spell to save their life.

Finally, there is the issue that we crash into, about twice a year, every year. Right about reporting day. That’s the one where the standard changes. Every year the standard shifts a little higher, so a child that sits below standard can improve hugely, do really well when measured against themselves, but still be below standard at the end of the year.

How painfully demoralising! To get better and better and still be told that you’re not good enough! To continually improve, but to never measure up to the standard expected of people your age. There’s no shades of meaning or sense of achievement for being better than you’ve ever been before.

My younger daughter is borderline intellectually disabled. She will always struggle in school. Her teachers tell us every year that they hate writing her standardised report, because it just pigeonholes her as ‘Well Below Standard’. It says nothing about the gains she has made, nothing of how much they’ve seen her grow, and absolutely nothing about how very hard she’s worked.

It more than erases her efforts though. In using this ugly club of a ‘tool’, the task of actually assessing and expressing where she stands is pounded under the pile of horseshit known as ‘Well Below’. It’s taken me a long time to work out how far behind she is, because I’ve never thought to ask. I’ve been accepting ‘Well Below’ without questioning. Now, for my own sanity, I need to know – how far below? How well is she progressing? Is she falling further behind? Catching up? Just puttering along the same trajectory as everyone else, just with a lower start point? National Standards don’t tell me any of this.

National Standards are a signal failure. They do not tell the average parent much about how their child is doing, and they utterly fail the parent of a non-standard child. They add to teachers’ workloads, without providing meaningful information to parents. I do not remember what it was like pre-National Standards – but it had to be better than it is now.